Twitter and its burgeoning legion of Taylor Swift historians have been ablaze for days, decrypting lyrics and visuals from the singer's newly released music video for "Look At What You Made Me Do." Many are buzzing about her upcoming album "Reputation," but even more are agog about the various beefs she references in the song.
Kanye West. Katy Perry. Kim Kardashian. It must be a K thing. Maybe it's all practise for something bigger? Look out David Duke, after this Tay Tay's coming for the Klan.
How much true animus is behind each of these feuds is anyone's guess. Taylor has long endured accusations of engineering a certain public image, whether it be in relation to one of her apparent adversaries or some suspiciously paparazzi-friendly PDA. Is her entire public life fake? Maybe one of the many Taylor Swift historians can tell you. Is that an official job yet? It will be.
The hubbub helped the song's music video score 28 million views in its first 24 hours. That, by the way, is now a record for YouTube views. Everyone knows controversy creates cash. And key to creating controversy these days is manipulating social media. Holy crap, has Swift done that.
Using manufactured conflict to boost record sales isn't new, especially for those of us who listen to hip hop. It wasn't so long ago 50 Cent and Kanye West sold a combined 1.6 million albums in one week thanks in large part to a completely fake rivalry. "That was something that we created," 50 Cent told XXL five years after their competition. "It was just great marketing." It sure was, Fiddy. It sure was.
All the battles referenced in Taylor's new video have been fought on a digital battlefield. Kanye West released a song last year called "Famous," in which he raps "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous." She responded to that with a fair amount of shade during a Grammy acceptance speech. Except, in a notorious slapdown, Kim Kardashian then Snapchatted video of Kanye in a phone call asking permission from Taylor to use the line.
"I think it's like a compliment," Taylor is heard saying.
In another now-famous social media moment, Swift denied consenting via Instagram, saying, "I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be part of, since 2009." That particular post can't be unearthed since Swift, apparently in the "rebellious teenager" phase of her career, deleted all her Instagram posts in April.
Finally, in May, Katy Perry released "Swish Swish," a song that's apparently a reply to Swift's "Bad Blood," which was apparently about Perry. Swift, in an act of extraordinary sass, responded by re-releasing her entire catalog on Spotify -- three years after removing her music from the streamer. She did that on June 10, a day after Katy Perry's "Witness" album dropped. GG, WP.
It all seems petty, but they're valuable case studies in social media as marketing tool. Kim Kardashian's Snapchats? They were sent out on the same night Kimye's beef with Taylor was a plot point on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" -- a show I am stunned to learn has plots. Taylor Swift, meanwhile, made a red hot $400,000 from Spotify, Pandora, Tidal and Amazon in just 12 days after allowing her songs to play through those streamers.
It's not all hard dollars though. There's a lot of branding going on. The new video clip makes reference to her distaste for streamers -- Swift is seen robbing a company called Steam Co. -- and her deleting her Instagram feeds into the edgy, "the old Taylor is dead" narrative of "Look At What You Made Me Do."
We're all guilty of liking a good grudge match. But the veneer is getting thinner. Last weekend's historic Mayweather-McGregor "superfight" came after months of confrontations that were so painfully contrived almost anyone could see they were a farce. The charade ended as soon as the fight was over, with the two "rivals" buddying up in the post-fight press conference, presumably celebrating the bajillion dollars they both earned.
No one was surprised, yet UFC President Dana White claims the event generated an astonishing 6.5 million pay-per-view buys. (Note: I am part of the problem. I definitely watched this fight. And I have definitely listened to "Look At What You Made Me Do." Multiple times.)
"Reputation" will make more money upon its November release than I could imagine in my, well, wildest dreams. It was always going to do that: Her last album, 1989, has sold 9.5 million copies, and Taylor can literally release white noise and still top charts. But the rabble about her personal life and conflicts will likely add a zero or two.
Just don't be surprised if you see Katy and Taylor sharing a stage soon. I'll bet there's a lot of money to be made in reconciliation too.
Update, 1:55 p.m. AEST: Adds McGregor-Mayweather buyrate, Swift's Spotify reference in "Look What You Made Me Do" and 1989 sales information.
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